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LOOKING FOR LOVE
Janice Stensrude
published in Uptown Express February 1991

When all of the remedies and all of the rhetorical armour has been dropped, the absence of love in our lives is what makes them seem raw and unfinished.

Ingrid Bengis, Combat in the Erogenous Zone

In a society where the vast majority expect to find their mates without the benefit of family wisdom (and interference), we Americans are quite creative in expanding our opportunities to meet prospects for romantic relationship. Several years ago it was fashionable to suggest that women hang out in the men's department of a good store and pretend to shop for shirts for their fathers. The theory, I suppose, was that men doing their own shopping were more likely to be unattached, and the relative exclusivity of the store was a sort of financial qualifier. That technique came after the old thump-the-watermelon craze had died down--the suggestion to strike up a conversation in the produce department of the super market. Maybe the super market method wasn't a good economic qualifier, but it did peg the ones who were doing their own cooking.

Lists of places to meet proliferated in magazines and books. If you wanted to meet men, go where men go--to sporting events. Women, on the other hand, were to be found in art galleries, museums, or at concerts. More recently, jogging trails, juice bars, and health clubs have been suggested for those seeking a health conscious mate. No one has so far suggested that men haunt the women's department of a good store.

I decided to conduct my own research on the topic. The scientific method, it is said, is to state your hypothesis and then acquire a random sample of people to respond to questions carefully structured to elicit precise answers that will give measurable results.

My hypothesis was easy: That you meet the right people in places of which your grandmother approves--church, social events in private homes, through common interest groups, through the introductions arranged by family and friends.

The random sample was a little tougher. There are companies with big computers that specialize in structuring random samples for scientific inquiry. That was beyond the limits of my budget, so I just asked everyone who passed the chair I was sitting in. That was going to have to be random enough.

I only asked four questions: (1) How long has your relationship lasted (or how long did it last)? (2) Were you introduced to each other by someone else? (3) Was it a planned introduction? (4) Where did you first meet?

The resulting 52 responses look more like a cross sampling of the general population than it ought to.

I entered the responses in my computer database, and like every highly scientific researcher, I began to manipulate the factors in an attempt to get them to verify my hypothesis. The computer persistently defied me. The results did not support my hypothesis.

I was certain that a proper introduction was important. Well, that depends. Only 23.5% of the self-introduced are divorced, while those who wangled an intro through another person have a significantly higher attrition rate at 34.3%. The advice Priscilla gave John Alden is apparently good advice for all of us. One interesting little statistic, though: the self-introduced married had been together an average of 10.3 years, while the self-introduced divorced had been together an average of 10.6 years. Maybe somebody's in for a nasty surprise in the next .3 year.

The exception to the self-introduction rule is those dreaded planned introductions. Of the six people in my study who agreed to humor their matchmaking friends by agreeing to a planned meeting, four are married, one has a long-term "steady," and one is divorced. A small sample, but pretty good odds.

But where did these people meet? I've listed the various meeting places here in order of frequency.

1. Bars. Bars, named by 12 of my 52 respondents, are the Number One place for meetings! Only one bar meeting reported in my study group ended in divorce. The most enduring relationship in my survey began more than 54 years ago at 3:00 a.m. in a bar in New Orleans--and they did manage the introduction without benefit of an intermediary. As a matter of fact, 8 of the 12 couples meeting in bars introduced themselves. One respondent, still married after 26 years, met her husband in a bar when he answered the bartender's challenge to ask the first woman who walked through the door for a date. He won the bet and the damsel.

2. In the Workplace. Running close second to bars as a meeting place, the workplace was named by 10 respondents. The divorce rate, however, is slightly higher than my couples who met in bars. One respondent met her first husband in a bar and the second at work. The first marriage lasted 16 years, the second 4 months.

3. At School. Those who met in the classroom as fellow students fared worse than any other group. Five of the 9 respondents who met in school are divorced. We can't be too hasty and blame it on aberrant energies in classrooms. I didn't ask the age of my respondents at marriage, but the fact that 8 of the 9 school meetings took place in high school may suggest marriage at a very early age--certainly a factor that cannot be ignored. With an average marriage of 17.8 years, the divorced couples in this group cannot be accused of not trying. The surviving marriages are worthy of mention: 33 years, 32 years, 29 years, and 1 year.

4. At the Home of Friends or Family. Six of my respondents met in this most proper manner. One is married, 2 are living with their companions without benefit of clergy, and 2 are divorced. Not an outstanding record for what we might consider an ideal way to meet suitable prospects. One respondent met her present mate of 9 years in her own home--after marriage to a much older man did not bring happiness, she found it with his son.

5. At a Private Party. Five respondents met their mates at private parties. Of these, 3 are currently married and 2 are divorced. A 40% divorce rate is a little stiff, but lower than the national statistics claimed by some studies.

6. Extracurricular Activities. It's only three people, but they're all "going steady." If my small sample means anything, a special interest group (civic club, children's activities, bird watchers club, etc.) is a good place to meet someone you want to hang out with, but your prospects for marriage or a live-in relationship are slim.

7. Through Dating Services. Only two people in my sample met through a dating service. Both are happily, though relatively recently, married. One couple met through a well-known video service. This is an expensive proposition. I have heard prices ranging from $600 to $2,000. A small price to pay, say the happy couple, who each paid slightly over $1,000 to find each other. The high cost may actually be part of the attraction. The fee is high enough to warrant the assumption that members are employed and financially responsible, but not so high that one can make any assumptions concerning net worth. You have to be serious about wanting suitable companionship to pay the fee, and married people looking for something to occupy that famous place "on the side" are likely to look for a more economical avenue.

The second couple in my survey who met through a dating service is Robin and Sheila Brooks, owners of The Christian Connection, a dating service for Christian singles who haven't found their mate in their own church congregation. Robin purchased the two-year-old service in 1984, and met Sheila shortly thereafter during one of the monthly parties for members.

The Christian Connection, with 100 active members, is reasonable--$80 for a 6-month membership. Robin and Sheila match characteristics from questionnaires filled out by members, and then they telephone both parties in a match, reading straight from the profiles. If both are interested, first names and telephone numbers are exchanged. Tradition rules, and the gentleman always calls the lady. Sheila describes their service as "a better way for Christian singles to meet." If this sounds like your cup of tea, you can talk to Robin or Sheila at 540-3032.

Most people enrolling in dating services, according to the service operators, indicate they are looking for a mate. A significant number are more comfortable stating they would be interested in marriage if they met "the right person."

Selectra-Date, the nation's oldest computer dating service, has been matchmaking since 1967. The Houston franchise has been operating for the past ten years. Selectra-Date guarantees a minimum of five matches for $35. If these don't suit your fancy (or if it was just so great you want to go back for more), you can re-up for only $25 for another five. Matches are made once a month with an average database of between 200 and 300 names. A member's name is carried on the database until five matches are achieved. If you're interested in being one of the 1,000 Houstonians who use Selectra-Date each year, they can be reached at 890-5150.

If you check out the astrological sign of your prospects, you may want to contact John Quinn, local engineer/astrologer who operated an astrological dating service from 1983 to 1985. He's anxious to get it started up again and wants to offer free membership to the first 100 people who contact him. You can call him at 777-6854. Quinn's program, which he developed himself, is designed not just to get the right people together, but also to keep the wrong people apart. Quinn, author of Astrological Techniques, Volume I, states that certain astrological combinations make a dangerous mix.

Lasting Relationships

Twenty couples in my survey had been together for more than 10 years. Eight of these are still married, 10 are divorced, and 2 are widowed. Three married, 1 widowed, and 1 divorced in this group met their spouses in bars. Five, who are now divorced, met at school, and the remainder in an odd assortment of places (one at a funeral!). Among this long-term group, the average length of marriage for the currently married is 28.1 years, and the average length of marriage for the divorced is 15.6 years. Profoundly suggesting that if you don't get a divorce you stay married longer.

Survey Conclusions

People who take the initiative to introduce themselves apparently show initiative in creating a stable relationship.

If a friend has someone they're enthusiastic for you to meet, give it a try.

Church isn't as good a place to meet as it ought to be.

Bars aren't as bad a place to meet as they ought to be.

Meeting someone at work ain't bad, but it ain't all that good.

If you meet someone in the classroom, make the sign of the cross, holding it steady between your two bodies. Tradition also holds you should grimace and make hissing noises.

If you're not so interested in marriage, but you are looking for a steady honey, join a club.

Dating Services are probably worth investigating if you're undertaking a serious search.

My sample is small, the scientific validity is questionable, and the whole thing is based on averages. There are, in any study, a good number of contented exceptions. Let's face it, love is a risky venture no matter where you meet.

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